Listening to: Mumford & Sons - Babel
From September 21st -27th this year the literary community holds its annual Banned Books Week, celebrating freedom to seek and express ideas, and of course to read. Books are banned for one reason for another, in libraries, high schools, etc., and are localized to the community where the books have been challenged. It’s important to note that the US government does not ban books; they are banned in specific communities only. Now I don’t agree with banning literature and I’m climbing up on my soapbox for a few minutes to tell you why. This is my opinion on the subject—everyone’s entitled to their own—so read on (or don’t) if you want.
As a writer and voracious reader, I passionately believe banning books takes away a person’s fundamental intellectual rights. Everyone has things that make them uncomfortable, triggers that send them running (or hiding), things that they absolutely do not want to read about. That should be each individual’s choice. Banning books takes that away, assuming people can’t use their intelligence to make a decision about whether or not they should read something. Censorship assumes you don’t have a clue what’s good for you. It can be subtle or blatantly overt, but it’s harmful no matter the reason. It doesn’t permit you to explore what your literary likes and dislikes are or grow as a person. This is relevant to all forms of censorship in the arts, but I’m only talking literature today.
Some of the greatest classics have been banned somewhere at a point for one reason or another. And why? Because someone (or several someones) got offended enough to decide a whole group of people shouldn’t read a book due to its “offensive language,” “violence,” “sexually explicit” content, “religious viewpoint,” or they thought it was just “unsuited to an age group.” (There’s a larger list of banned/challenged book reasons that I’m not going to list here.) They are forcibly imposing their viewpoints on others by taking away a book for further reading, not allowing others to decide on their own terms.
Some of my favorite books have plenty of violence, offensive language, and “sexually explicit” content (I use quotes on this one and I’ll explain why below). I personally like books that push the envelope and make me uncomfortable because that’s when I learn the most about myself. I also like to write this way.
With all that in mind, I give you a list of some of my favorite oh-so-scandalous banned books (both newer and classics, adult and children’s), complete with “why” they were banned (thanks to ala.org and other similar sources). Though let’s be honest, most of the books I love have probably been banned at one time. Many of the “reasons” don’t actually make sense to me, but then again I’m not easily offended. In several cases where something was determined to be “sexually explicit” there isn’t a single sex scene or any sexual language in the book. In other cases, anything related to magic or talking animals can be considered “occult/Satanism.”
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath – Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, overt rejection of the woman’s role as wife and mother
The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins – Reason: religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, violence, anti-family, sexually explicit
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley - Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, sexually explicit, nudity, religious viewpoint
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll – Reasons: offensive language, sexual references, occult/Satanism
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy – Reasons: Unable to find rationale on why this book was banned, just that it has been. My guess would be it’s due the book’s “sexually explicit” and suicidal content
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood – Reasons: sexually explicit, suicide, obscene language, Drugs/alcohol/smoking, crudity
Lord of the Flies , by William Golding – Reasons: violence, offensive language, unsuited to age group
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert – Reasons: sexually explicit, obscene
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak – Reasons: occult/Satanism ,unsuited for age group
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Reasons: sexually explicit, obscene
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher - Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
A Wrinkle in Time , by Madeleine L'Engle – Reasons: offensive language, occult/Satanism
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green - Reasons: sexual content, mortality
I don’t agree with a single one of the reasons for banning any of the books above, but that's my opinion and you may disagree. My point to all this is that everyone should have the right to decide what they want to read. They should be able to pick up a book, scan the back, flip through the pages, and determine if they’re willing to give it a try FOR THEMSELVES. That’s the beauty of artistic expression in every form. Someone will love your work, someone will hate it. Either way it’s for each individual to decide. Reading is a personal experience. No one should take the right to read away from others just because they’re uncomfortable or offended by a book’s subject matter.